Latin America, a region of contrasts

Thursday 27 April 2023

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A monthly contribution by the IBA President

Latin America, a region of contrasts

Latin America is a fascinating region. The richness of its history, diversity of culture, astonishing natural beauty and impressive natural resources, may be unrivalled. The challenges faced by Latin America in terms of political shifts, geography, social inequalities, and above all, rule of law and democracy, may also be difficult to match. This combines with a Latin way of being, a personality – one of the characteristics I most enjoy is empathy, and one of the not so good is a ‘flexible’ approach to punctuality!

The business reality and potential growth of the region adds to the above. The FT ranking of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the Americas was issued 28 March 2023. Clearly dominated by US and Canadian corporations, the ranking shows already the Uruguayan Capicua in position 147, then C&B Papeles de Colombia in position 168, followed by a total of 48 other LATAM corporations from Brazil (which makes up 5 per cent of the total ranking), Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

I had the great pleasure of experiencing and learning about the above during my trip to Colombia on the occasion of the Latin American Bar Leaders’ Summit held in Bogotá on 21 March followed by the Biennial IBA Latin American Regional Forum Conference which took place on 22 and 23 March in Cartagena, an amazing venue.

These events proved three very relevant facts.

First fact: the strong engagement of LATAM bars with the difficult task, in most jurisdictions, of defending the profession, the rule of law and democracy. I was particularly impressed by the testimonies of the bar leaders of Argentina and Mexico. Argentina was able to transit from a dictatorship to a democracy by granting the victims of human rights under the dictatorship (1976–1983) access to justice in 1984/1985. The President of the Bar of Buenos Aires (Colegio Público de Abogados de la Capital General) and former Minister of Justice and of Human Rights, was one of the six judges of the ad-hoc court set up for that purpose. There was no precedent of a court proceeding against an outgoing dictatorship. The proceedings against those accused of directing the crimes were fundamental to allow for democracy to flourish in Argentina but also to set a precedent in international criminal law.

We also learnt about Mexico’s hard-won democracy being currently in danger. As the bar leaders from the Barra Mexicana Colegio de Abogados and the Asociación Nacional de Abogados de Empresa, Colegio de Abogados, A.C. (ANADE) explained, the President of the Mexican Government Andrés Manuel López Obrador is publicly attacking lawyers and judges, aiming at eroding their independence; moreover, in view of the elections to take place in June this year, he also enacted strong-armed legislation to slash the budget of the independent National Electoral Institute (INE) and weaken its supervisory powers, in an attempt for his Government to control the electoral process; this adds to the leader’s strategy of expanding the powers of the armed forces, handing them control of construction projects, ports, an airport and customs, thus avoiding checks and balances.

Concerns related to their respective jurisdictions were also expressed by the bar leaders of Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. At the IBA we are reviewing all these issues to take any possible measure in support of our colleagues in those jurisdictions.


The participants at the LATAM Bar Leaders’ Summit

Allow me to give some good news presented by ANDI's Colombian Chamber of Legal Services, member of the IBA. Colombia is a country which, despite the difficult internal affairs connected with the current stages of the peace process with the armed forces – guerrillas/ELN – maintains stability and an exemplary rotation in government through democratic elections. I had the honour of representing the IBA when meeting up with the Colombian Minister of Justice. The Minister has a great legal background and clearly stated the priority of his Ministry of safeguarding the rule of law and legal certainty in Colombia. We also met with the Attorney General, the first female to lead the Procuradoría General de la Nación in 190 years. This is an institution which is key in terms of checks to the Government and in promotion of social justice. The IBA has established a working group to identify potential areas of legal support.

The second fact, which contrasts with the first one, is that LATAM boasts a robust international business law practice. It is dynamic, ambitious, and generates empathy amongst peers in the region and from all over the world. These are also the features of the IBA Latin American Regional Forum (LARF), an exemplary regional forum within our Association. That explains the huge success of the Conference: c.800 attendees from 31 countries, 15 of which were jurisdictions other than those forming part of LATAM. Excellent topics, working programme, excellent speakers, excellent social programme – very proud of this.


The opening session of the Conference

Third fact: The importance of the IBA regional approach. I would not have been able to write about these realities without having visited LATAM. That is the reason why I plan to follow an institutional agenda of presidential trips to other regions. Most importantly, one of the IBA aspirations during this term is to strengthen, even further, regional fora as well as dialogue with local bars. We need to learn more about how challenges materialise in their respective legal environments, what other local challenges they face, and act accordingly.

I wish to do so having direct contact with the legal profession, passing the strong message of the relevance of the legal sector for society and of the need to use the law as a powerful transformation tool.

I close this column congratulating and thanking the organisers of the two events: ANDI, LARF officers, Conference Co-Chairs, Host Committee and the IBA staff. This may go down in the IBA history of 2023 as the best regional event... but let’s wait until year end!